A year after the Columbine murders, agonizing questions remain about the attack, the police response, and a sheriff under siege.

"Our lives have turned into a really bad X-Files," says Brooks Brown.

For Brooks, the burden of being branded a suspect has never entirely gone away. Students have hissed "murderer" at him on the street and hurled obscenities from passing cars; even a year later, total strangers feel entitled to berate him. An avid debater, he recently returned to Columbine to watch his former team in action, only to be escorted out by a security guard.

"It's been horrible," he says. "I don't think anyone knows how hard it is to have a best friend that was killed, a really close person like Daniel Mauser, and you can't go to his parents because they might think you helped kill him. I was also good friends with Rachel Scott."

Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.
Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.
Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.
David Rehor
Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.


The Columbine Reader: Selections from Westword's reporting on the murders.

Brooks's own contact with investigators left him with the impression that the probe was proceeding in a very selective, even myopic fashion. In his first three interviews with a Jeffco sergeant and an FBI agent, the pair focused exclusively on the events of April 20. "That's pretty much all they asked me," he says. "They never asked about my friendship with Eric or Dylan. They never asked about the Web pages. They never asked about anything but what happened between eleven and twelve o'clock that day."

On the fourth and final interview, they arrived with Brooks's backpack, which he'd left in a friend's car during the melee. They had found poems he'd written and left in the pack, poems about hating jocks and about a Columbine student who'd killed his stepfather and then himself the year before.

"They had me read four or five of them," Brooks recalls, "and then they asked, 'What does this mean?' They thought it meant I was involved in Columbine. I told them I like to write poetry and it's not happy all the time. After about an hour, my dad told them to leave."

Brooks Brown has never seen the tapes Klebold and Harris made documenting their preparations for Armageddon. No investigator has ever quizzed him or his friends about the nicknames and cryptic references on those tapes to various associates and enemies. No one from Jeffco or the FBI has ever solicited his insights for a psychological profile of the killers, even though he'd been a close friend of Dylan Klebold's since they were children. As far as motive goes, it seems the investigators are satisfied with the oft-quoted phrase, "They hated everybody" -- an explanation that doesn't explain anything, while seeming to exonerate Columbine's see-no-evil administration and its troubled student culture from any liability in the matter.

Brooks has his own theories about what drove the killers. He suspects their motives may have been different, even if the mission was largely the same. He wonders if their suicides in the school library may have been hastened by a merciful mistake, one last miscalculation leading to a hasty exit.

"They were assuming the SWAT team was going to be there any minute," he says. "Just like everybody else."

"Like a Couple of Rambo Nuts"

Sheriff Stone has tended to characterize the recall action as an extension of his feud with the Browns; he's even referred to the campaign as "the Brown effort to recall me." But the situation is actually more complicated than that. Although Randy Brown obtained the official paperwork for the recall, he says he did so at the urging of other Columbine parents who were upset with the Time article, and he has since received support from other quarters as well.

To place the recall before voters this fall, Stone's opponents will have to gather a minimum of 42,000 valid signatures in sixty days -- which means they'll probably have to collect at least 60,000. That's a tall order for a grassroots campaign in the sprawling suburbs, particularly since Columbine is a hot-button issue primarily on the south side of the county. Other high-profile homicides, such as the still-unsolved Subway shop murders, have spurred further criticism of the sheriff's office, but the recall effort remains largely a reaction to Columbine.

"Stone has no business being sheriff," says Victor Good, chairman of the Colorado Reform Party, which has voted to back the recall. "We thought he'd learned his lesson. But instead of having a legitimate press conference when the facts are known, he chooses to play favorites and pander to Time. That's just unacceptable."

Like Brown, Good is hardly a disinterested party; his stepson, Nate Dykeman, was also a friend of Klebold's and Harris's who was caught in the maw of the media frenzy. But anger over the release of the tapes has also forged unlikely alliances between the Browns and victims' families that had previously shunned them because of the cloud of suspicion cast on Brooks.

"Randy and Judy Brown are wonderful people, and every point they have is absolutely valid," declares Angela Sanders, daughter of slain teacher Dave Sanders. "I've had very little contact with the sheriff's office, but I do believe that Sheriff Stone needs to be gone. He hasn't done a very good job of protecting the families."

Dunaway contends that the sheriff's office decided to cooperate with Time in an effort to help the families. "Time has misrepresented to the nation their direct violation of our confidentiality agreement with them," he says. But even if an off-the-record agreement was violated, the affair raises disturbing questions about how the sheriff's office has dealt with the most sensitive aspects of the Columbine investigation -- and why.

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